August 8, 2011  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
Sol LeWitt’s Colorful Cubes

Sol LeWitt. Cubes in Color on Color. 2003. Portfolio of 30 linoleum cuts. Publisher: Arte y Naturaleza, Madrid. Printer: Watanabe Studio, Brooklyn, New York. Edition: 50. The Museum of Modern Art. Roxanne H. Frank Fund and General Print Fund

It must be the energy of summer that has thrown me into a general state of elation in which anything with a splash of color elevates my spirits. For instance, a recent trip to Dia:Beacon to see the exhibition Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964–1977 instantly brightened my experience there, in the same way that MoMA’s recently acquired work by Sol LeWitt, Cubes in Color on Color (2003) made my heart race with excitement. And it’s not only because the colors in this series are jolting and teeth-grittingly bold.

LeWitt’s conceptual approach to this later print series is reminiscent of the conventions he has applied to his work since the 1960s. The line was the most fundamental element of his works on paper, as the cube was for his sculpture. In his 1971 portfolio of 10 etchings, titled Squares with a Different Line Direction in Each Half Square, the variation and combination of line direction results in an orderly division of hatched areas, produced by rotating and printing only two plates. LeWitt utilized the cubic form in Serial Project, I (ABCD) (1966) to create a fully systematic and Minimalist presentation of the shape’s many permutations, as seen in the open and closed squares of varying sizes. The effects in both works are methodical and straightforward, free from any stylistic decisions.

Sol LeWitt. Serial Project, I (ABCD). 1966. Baked enamel on steel units over baked enamel on aluminum. The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Agnes Gund and purchase

Since LeWitt believed that “complex forms only disrupt the unity of the whole,” it makes sense that the cube, so integral to his minimalist sculptures, would appear in his works on paper. In a way, Cubes in Color on Color can be seen as a reinvention of the artist’s old systems. Produced nearly 30 years after Squares, the series depicts the cubic form, its three-dimensionality flattened. Color is introduced to express the cube’s limitless number of possible combinations. At first glance the arrangement seems random, but there is a specific, visual systematization, that is consistent with his conceptual approach. Displayed in a six-by-five grid, the color of the cubes in each row remains the same, progressing from red to yellow, to blue, then to orange, green, and purple, from the top. Similarly, the background color progresses diagonally, beginning with yellow at the top left corner.

The repetition of the cube and the color patterns communicate a seriality that isn’t unfamiliar. I’m reminded of Josef Albers’s Homage to the Square, but Albers’s colors contain a degree of opacity that just doesn’t deliver the same punch as LeWitt’s cubes do. Here, they’re decadently saturated and vivid, producing a scheme that invites the viewer to move through the series in any and every direction, as if to absorb all of the colors at once.

In his 1967 essay “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” Lewitt states that “art meant for the sensation of the eye would be called perceptual rather than conceptual…[including] most optical, kinetic, light, and color art.” Although Cubes in Color on Color primarily maintains the conceptual workings of LeWitt’s mind, the work may also be perceptual, by the artist’s own definition. Regardless of what the work is meant to do, it sparks a certain feeling that undoubtedly begins with the “sensation of the eye.”